Before getting into the usual, let me first wish you all a Happy Holidays. Nothing is more important than family and loved ones, especially at this time of year. So I hope you are warm and safe with those that mean the most to you.
It’s kind of hard to believe we’re already approaching Week 16 in another crazy NFL season. We are now down to just two weeks of games. Fear not; this column will be in place all the way through the conference championships. It will not, however, have ownership data from Thursday/Saturday GPPs. This is the last week for said GPPS, but given the holiday and importance to family, both The Fade and The Contrarian were written before that data was available. We will have those numbers for you; be sure to keep an eye on the Cracking FanDuel blog for them.
But for now, we’re going to take a slightly different approach and analyze a few of the best matchups—those that will likely have high exposure—and determine which players are worth owning as loss leaders and which ones we can fade.
(Update: ownership data is available here)
No quarterback has a sweeter looking Sunday than Blake Bortles. He’ll likely be the highest owned player on the board. He is on the road to New Orleans with a pair of above average wide receivers, a solid tight end, and a banged up backfield, in a game that has our highest over/under total of the week at 52 points. We all know that the Saints are a gift to fantasy passers. They’ve allowed 300-yard or better passing totals in eight of 14 weeks, and at least three passing touchdowns in seven of those weeks. Enter Bortles, who comes in as the fourth highest scoring quarterback in all of football, averaging 278 yards per game to go along with 31 touchdowns—fifth most. He’s available to us at a bargain price of $8,200. So why would we fade him? It kind of depends on Drew Brees:
#Saints QB Drew Brees MRI that revealed torn plantar fascia in right foot. Awaiting opinion of Dr Robert Anderson, also treating P Manning.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 22, 2015
If Brees doesn’t play, it’s possible this game falls well short of its promising shootout potential. Not that Matt Flynn is a bad quarterback should he be forced to play in Brees’ place, but he’s also not a good one. And even if that happens, it’s still possible Bortles comes through with his weekly average of 278 yards and 2.2 touchdowns. But if you’re looking for a reason to fade the crowd, it might be wise to double-down on Denard Robinson and look elsewhere for your quarterback.
If not for missed time, you have to think Ben Roethlisberger is an underrated MVP candidate. He has played in 10 games and thrown for at least 330 yards in seven of them. Last week he hosted the best passing defense in the league and cut them up for 380 yards and three touchdowns (and two interceptions). Imagine what he’ll do to the Baltimore Ravens, who are allowing the fifth most fantasy points per attempt and rank sixth in passing touchdowns conceded. The Steelers are favored by 10 points in this one, and even though the game will probably be one-sided, the Ravens are impossible to run on, so we think the Steelers’ implied team total of 28.5 points comes mostly from Roethlisberger. And let’s not forget that the Steelers defense is exploitable themselves, which could keep this game more competitive than the line suggests. The only reason to fade him, and this is not a good reason, is because he’ll cost you $8,900—second most among passers—and stacking him with his best receiver cuts 30.3 percent out of your cap. But pricing aside, he may be the best play on the board.
Our most expensive player on the board will also likely be one of the most popular options of Week 16. The People’s Champ, Cam Newton, hits the road to the runner-friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta. Fresh off of his third five-touchdown performance of the season, Newton checks in as our second best quarterback per FanDuel scoring (and will likely pass Tom Brady this week). The Falcons 16.4 fantasy points per game allowed to passers ranks as the ninth fewest. But it really doesn’t matter who he faces. Newton’s floor is the ceiling of a lot of quarterbacks. And the fact that the he’s also the Panthers best running back cements his status as one of the best plays (again) of the week. You won’t find many reasons to fade him other than salary cap relief. Roethlisberger, as mentioned, is a great play and frees up $400. Bortles, despite a questionable game script, frees up $1,100. And there’s always the threat that the Panthers destroy the Falcons and bench Newton before the fourth quarter just as they did when these teams met a couple of weeks ago.
It’s hard to imagine David Johnson not being the highest owned running back this week. It’s also hard to imagine him not finding the end zone at home against the Packers. But the matchup isn’t a walk in the park. The Packers have allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to running backs, and their 1,665 total yards ranks as the seventh-fewest. Regardless, our savior here is the Cardinals offense that poses a matchup nightmare for any defense. No team has more offensive yards and only the Panthers have scored more points (449 to 445). Johnson has no competition for carries. Since taking over as the lead back, he has 11 red zone looks—easily the most of any Cardinals player. We can understand his price jump of $800 this week. But he is still one of the best values on the board for $7,300. Week 16 doesn’t offer much for running back security, so we need to jump on the few clear cut backfields at our disposal, making Johnson a tough fade.
If Johnson isn’t the most exposed running back, then Karlos Williams surely is. It’s unlikely that LeSean McCoy will be available for this game after tearing his MCL last week. We’d like a little clarity regarding Williams’ injury status as well. If anything, we could be headed towards a committee look for Buffalo. So even though the matchup against Dallas is promising, and Williams’ salary of $5,400 is a lovely gift for any roster, the fact that Mike Gillislee is the healthiest Bills running back makes this situation questionable at best. We don’t know much about Gillislee. He has decent speed, which he put on full display with a 60-yard touchdown scamper last week. But Williams looked every bit as good as McCoy when given the opportunity. The Cowboys defense is especially bad against pass-catching backs, having allowed the third most receptions and fourth most receiving yards. We think that benefits Williams more so than Gillislee. In any case, the matchup in Buffalo doesn’t promise a lot of scoring, so unless Williams is given a full set of practices to close out the week, we’ll fade this situation. If he does practice in full, the threat of a committee approach is overblown.
Devonta Freeman looked like he returned to form last week with over a 100 combined yards and a touchdown that included seven catches on 10 targets. As such, he might carry a little buzz into Week 16 with medium exposure. He’ll likely have the backfield all to himself again after Tevin Coleman apparently slipped in the shower. But we want no part of Freeman’s $8,500 salary against a tough Panthers’ defense, even if the likes of Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen combined for 32.4 fantasy points against them last week. The Falcons offense isn’t reliable, especially when their best player could struggle against Josh Norman. As it stands, the Panthers are a touchdown favorite with an over/under of 47.5 points. We doubt the Falcons will get blown out at home so there’s at least a chance for Freeman to find the end zone. But we can do better for $8,500.
Without question, Antonio Brown is the best play among all wide receivers. He may, in fact, be the best play overall. He comes into Week 16 as WR1 in FanDuel scoring, and gets a Ravens’ secondary that has allowed more touchdowns and more fantasy points to wide receivers than any other team. He is also the most expensive player on the board at $9,300 (tied with Newton). But there is no reason to fade him other than just hoping he gets unlucky.
There’s also plenty of reason to believe that Brown’s teammate, Martavis Bryant, will also be highly owned. As a reminder, the Ravens are stout against the run but easy to pass on. This is as good of a week as any to throw out a Steelers power stack (Roethlisberger/Brown/Bryant). Doing so will cost you 42.3 percent of the cap—a tough chunk to dedicate towards one offense—but it also lines up your roster with the highest projected total of any team (28.5 points).
Sammy Watkins is our fifth highest scoring receiver over the last three weeks with 301 yards and four touchdowns over that span. We keep writing him up in the space as a player to avoid, especially when the crowd is all over him. And we’ve been wrong every time. This week he gets the Cowboys at home, who have allowed just eight touchdowns and 24.8 points per game to receivers—ranking fifth in both categories. It’s hard to imagine this game turning into a shootout with Kellen Moore opposite Tyrod Taylor, so we can’t expect a high-volume approach from the Bills. Watkins, of course, isn’t about high volume. He’s about splash plays. We’re about fading the likelihood of those splash plays occurring against a good secondary. But hey, he’s proved us wrong before.
Fading Watkins’ $7,700 salary allows us to go a little chalkier with a combination of Brown and Allen Robinson. No wide receiver has more touchdowns than Robinson and only six have more yards. He has a solid matchup this week against the Saints, a team we’ve been targeting all year with receivers. The downside is the questionable status of Brees, something we covered with Bortles, and the fact that since Allen Hurns returned to the lineup two weeks ago, Robinson has just four catches for 61 yards. But he’s also found the end zone twice during that span keeping his floor reasonable. If Brees does end up playing, we like Robinson a lot more. But given the uncertainty, paying his $8,400 tax, even in a great matchup, may not be the optimum choice in Week 16.
With Vincent Jackson injured, Mike Evans saw 17 targets last week against a good Rams secondary. Jackson will most likely miss their home tilt against the Bears this week, leaving Evans as the primary target for Jameis Winston. The matchup isn’t great. The Bears have allowed the third fewest yards to receivers and the ninth fewest fantasy points. But they’ve also allowed 18 touchdowns. We know Evans is capable of having monster games. But the one area we expected him to especially excel is in scoring. So far he has just three touchdowns on the season. A date with the Bears should help. His $8,200, however, could be tough to fit into a lineup should you go chalk with Brown.
If you can fit Rob Gronkowski into your lineup, you do it. There’s no reason to fade him other than salary restrictions. That, of course, is no different than any other week. Matchups don’t matter, especially considering how banged up the Patriots are on offense, which funnels extra work his way. It is worth noting that the Jets have allowed just two touchdowns to tight ends all season, and rank fifth in the fewest points allowed. One of those touchdowns belongs to Gronkowski, who destroyed them back in Week 7 with 11 catches for 108 yards.
The only reason to fade Gronkowski is Greg Olsen, who is the best tight end play on the board. The Falcons are one the league’s friendliest matchups for tight ends, ranking fourth overall in points allowed. Olsen comes into Week 16 as the 16th highest scorer among tight ends and wide receivers. His $6,800 salary should be viewed more as a cheap wide receiver than an expensive tight end, per usual.
Slowly climbing the ranks, Julius Thomas checks in as our third best tight end over the last five weeks. His 39 targets over that span rank second among Jaguars, and include six red-zone looks. He has a cake matchup against the league’s most tight end-friendly defense in New Orleans. But as mentioned, if Brees isn’t available, we don’t like this game to turn into a high-volume affair. And for $300 more, we’d much prefer Olsen.
The Seahawks will once again be a chalk play at defense. They returned only nine points last week against the Browns. Things look much more promising against the Rams this week, but $5,400 is always a tough price.
The Chiefs are also $5,400 and get that same Browns offense at home. We can’t recommend a fade here after what they did to the Ravens last week. All we can say is that the Broncos are $200 cheaper and will be looking to make a statement, with their playoff hopes in check, after getting throttled by the Steelers.
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